New Study Finds Plant-Rich Foods, Nuts/Seeds May Reduce Premature Aging in Childhood Cancer Survivors

For immediate release
January 23, 2024


Naomi Hagelund

ASCO Expert Perspective  

“This study reveals a compelling link between a diet rich in dark green vegetables and nuts/seeds and reduced signs of premature aging in adults who were treated for cancer in childhood. This demonstrates the essential role of modifiable lifestyle factors, like diet, in enhancing quality of life for childhood cancer survivors, long after their treatment has ended. The goal is to shift the focus from merely surviving to thriving post-cancer treatment, marking a new era in survivorship research.” said Fumiko Chino, MD, ASCO Expert


The role of plant-based foods and nutrients in reducing the risk of premature aging in childhood cancer survivors. 
3,322 adult survivors of childhood cancer at least 5 years from cancer diagnosis. 
Main Takeaway  
A diet rich in dark green vegetables and nuts/seeds, while limiting refined grains, is associated with a reduced risk of premature aging in adult survivors of childhood cancer. 
This is the first study to investigate the relationship between plant foods and premature aging risk specifically in childhood cancer survivors. 

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, conducted as part of the St. Jude Lifetime Cohort (SJLIFE), provides new insights into how diet affects aging in adult survivors of childhood cancer. This study, involving 3,322 participants between the ages of 18 and 65, found that higher consumption of dark green vegetables and nuts/seeds is associated with a lower risk of premature aging, while an increased intake of refined grains is linked to a higher risk. These findings, derived from assessments using the Deficit Accumulation Index (DAI), contribute to the growing understanding of the impact of specific dietary choices on the long-term health of childhood cancer survivors. This study is pivotal in understanding the importance of specific plant-based dietary choices in managing long-term health outcomes and enhancing the quality of life for childhood cancer survivors. 

About the Study 

“Due to advancements in treatments, childhood cancer patients are experiencing longer lifespans. Our research is dedicated to addressing the delayed consequences of these treatments, especially early onset aging. We are exploring how diet influences the aging process, aiming to develop new methods to alleviate these effects. This research could benefit not only childhood cancer survivors but also other populations susceptible to premature aging,” said lead author Mei Wang, MS, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.  

The study examined the dietary habits of childhood cancer survivors of various types. The participants' diet over the past year was meticulously assessed using a food frequency questionnaire, covering their intake of total fruits, vegetables (and their subgroups), whole grains, refined grains, nuts/seeds, and other nutrients. 

The assessment of premature aging was conducted at the study's outset using the Deficit Accumulation Index (DAI), which categorized participants into low, medium, and high-risk groups. Notably, 20% of the participants were classified as at medium risk and 8% at high risk of premature aging.  

Premature aging, particularly observed in childhood cancer survivors, refers to the early onset of aging-related health issues. These survivors, despite improved cancer survival rates, often develop chronic conditions, cognitive impairments, and frailty at a younger age compared to their non-cancer peers. This accelerated aging is partly attributed to the long-term effects of cancer treatments on the body's biological aging processes. Lifestyle factors, including diet and physical activity, are also influential. This study is focused on understanding how diet, especially plant-based diets, can mitigate premature aging in this group, aiming to develop specific dietary guidelines for childhood cancer survivors. 

Demographics of the Participants: 

  • Gender and Ethnicity: 54% male, 85% non-hispanic white. 
  • Cancer Types: 36% leukemia, 19% lymphoma, 13% central nervous system tumors, 6% Wilms tumors. 
  • Age at Diagnosis: 59% diagnosed with cancer before age 10, 24% between age 10 and 14, and 17% at or older than age 15. 

Key Findings 

  • Each increase of ½ cup/1,000 kcal in dark green vegetable intake nearly halves the odds of being in the high-risk category for premature aging. 
  • ​​For every 1oz/1,000 kcal increase in nuts/seeds consumption, there is a notable decrease in premature aging risk. 
  • ​A higher consumption of refined grains correlates with an increased risk of premature aging. 
  • There is no direct relationship between the intake of fruits and whole grains and the risk of premature aging. 
  • ​​Certain nutrients found in plant foods, such as dietary folate, beta-carotene, lutein/zeaxanthin, and vitamin E, are associated with a lower risk of premature aging. 

Next Steps 

The study's researchers plan to delve into the overall dietary patterns of adult survivors of childhood cancer, moving beyond examining individual food groups. This approach acknowledges the complexity of diets, which involves various food combinations consumed daily. The researchers aim to understand how these patterns correlate with premature aging risk. Additionally, they seek to translate this knowledge into actionable strategies to improve the diets of childhood cancer survivors. 

This study was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health, the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital-Washington University St. Louis Implementation Sciences Collaborative, and the American Lebanese-Syrian Associated Charities.  

View the full embargoed abstract (Please note: You must be logged in to ASCO's Media Headquarters to access this link.)​ 

View disclosures for Dr. Chino 

Disclosures for the study authors can be found in the full study 


About ASCO: 

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